Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda thanked the nannies for their work pushing for the passage of the new legislation.
Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda thanked the nannies for their work pushing for the passage of the new legislation.

Seattle’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights took effect on July 1, making the city the first in the country to establish legislation providing protections and labor standards for people working in private residences.

“We’re celebrating today, and we also know there’s so much more work to do,” said Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda to a party of nannies and their little clients gathered at the West Queen Anne Playfield.

Domestic workers — people hired by individuals or families to look after their yards, homes and children — have historically been excluded from national labor standards, Mosqueda said.

There are roughly 33,000 domestic workers in Seattle, who now qualify under Seattle’s minimum wage law, and are entitled to meal and rest breaks, at least one day off out of every seven days worked, and have protections from retaliation by employers, including having their documents withheld as a form of intimidation.

“This is the release party for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation that passed last September,” said Nanny Collective outreach coordinator Katherine Franco.

The Nanny Collective formed after a number of nannies were engaged with Working Washington, Franco said. Working Washington was heavily involved in the campaign for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Seattle, improving conditions for housecleaners, nannies, landscapers, private chefs and other independent contractors working at a private residence.

“We don’t have coworkers. We don’t really have colleagues,” Franco said. “We don’t have someone to talk to when things go wrong or go right.”

She said the legislation also will be helpful for employers, many with little experience employing people, so they know what is reasonable to expect from domestic workers, and what is expected of them.

“People need to find out how to be employers,” she said.

Franco doesn’t think all employers mean to take advantage, but there are cases where domestic workers stay quiet, sometimes out of fear regarding their status in the country and language barriers.

“You worry about your status and you worry about your money,” Franco said. “Domestic workers don’t make a lot of money.”

There are a lot of nannies working in Queen Anne, Franco said, but she wants more outreach in Seattle’s south side, where she believes workers’ rights education is needed most.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the legislation last July at Casa Latina, a nonprofit focused on empowering Latino immigrants through employment, education and community organizing.

Getting legislation passed last year involved a robust six-month engagement with employers and employees, Mosqueda said, which revealed that there were a lot of employment questions that needed answers.

Franco said she believes overtime protections will be the most immediate improvement domestic workers will see, especially for caregivers.

“I feel like we work very long hours and don’t get paid for it,” she said.

Enforcement will be difficult, Franco said, and she doesn’t believe things will change right away. The legislation created a standards board, which is still defining all of the rules that will be enforced by Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards. Mosqueda said that work should be concluded by September, and now is the time to educate domestic workers and employers.

Mosqueda expects to give birth to her first child in October, and said a number of her friends are also growing their families. Many are turning to nannies, so they can remain in the workforce. As important as nannies are, it’s critical that labor standards and protections help them stay in the industry, she said.

“It’s good for the workers and it’s good for the local economy,” Mosqueda said.

Seattle Nanny Network founder Emily Dills said domestic workers have been marginalized, under-appreciated and working in an unregulated market for too long. Now that there’s a labor shortage in a booming economy, she said, corporations and companies are focusing more on childcare as a way to attract and retain women in the workforce.

“This is a historical moment. These workers have never had these basic rights before,” Dills said.

The Seattle Nanny Network started 25 years ago as an educational support organization, she said, and as an employment agency it set its own standards in order to attract high-quality workers.

There are just eight states with a domestic workers bill of rights. Dills said state Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, is introducing legislation in November that commits the Legislature to providing universal childcare by 2025.